What is depression and how do I treat it?
by Adrián Martínez
Mood can affect many things in your life. When you feel down or hopeless, you might also notice changes in sleep, appetite, concentration, or energy. You might feel less interested in everyday activities or hobbies, or you might feel like you are moving more slowly. At your worst, you may also feel like you want to hurt yourself or end your life. If you are regularly feeling any combination of these, you might have depression. You may be inclined to dismiss it or let it continue because you think it will eventually get better. You may think that seeking help is admitting weakness, and you would not be alone in that mentality. Despite whatever you have learned from your family or culture, depression is an illness that is both remarkably common and treatable.
The rate of depression among Latinos in the U.S. is about that of the general population, which is about 7% (1). Among the Latino ethnicities, Puerto Ricans and Cubans are most likely to experience depressive symptoms. Within the same ethnicities, people born in the U.S., second-generation immigrants, or people living longer in the U.S. are more likely to report depression. Compared to white Americans, Latinos with mental health disorders are much less likely to seek mental health specialists for care. Furthermore, undertreated depression is up to four times higher in Latinos without health insurance compared to Latinos with health insurance (2). Needless to say, the Latino population has multiple barriers preventing access to treatments for this common condition, not the least of which are social stigma and lack of insurance.
If you think you may be depressed or are experiencing any persistent issues with stress, anxiety, or substance use, consider going to a mental health provider for help. Your primary care provider would be good to see initially to start medication or to get a referral for a psychiatrist or therapist. Keep in mind that, with few exceptions, what you say to your mental health provider is confidential. Your relationship with your provider should be one of trust and an understanding that he or she is there to help. Remember that there are plenty of options for medication and therapy, so you should not give up if the first treatment you try does not work. If you would like to search for providers on your own, you can go to findtreatment.samhsa.gov or call the National Treatment Referral Helpline (1-800-662-4357) for guidance. If you are feeling suicidal, go to your local hospital, call 911, or call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255).
1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2017). Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-DetTabs-2016/NSDUH-DetTabs-2016.pdf
2. Wassertheil-Smoller, Sylvia et al. “Depression, anxiety, antidepressant use, and cardiovascular disease among Hispanic men and women of different national backgrounds: results from the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos” Annals of epidemiology vol. 24,11 (2014): 822-30.
Adrian Martinez is a Puerto Rican born in California and raised in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Florida. He graduated in 2014 from the University of Florida with a B.S. in Biology and is currently a fourth-year medical student attending the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. He is on the executive board of the school’s chapter of the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA) and will be pursuing a career in psychiatry.